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When My Son Reminded Me to 'Stop and Smell the Flowers'

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This past summer I took my boys out for an evening walk around the block. My toddler was hyper, and I was hoping to let him run off some energy before bed. What I’d intended to be a quick 10-minute loop turned into a 45-minute extravaganza, and we were just half way home. My 4-year-old was stopping every 5 to 10 feet to smell every plant we passed. I hate to admit it, but I was getting frustrated. The child would not skip a single flower or plant. Every one had to be smelled, assessed and discussed. He talked about the colors, sizes and smells. Blossoms were compared and analyzed. He even noted which ones he’d seen before and which ones were pretty. It was cute at first. But halfway around the block, it turned into botany hell. “Dude, let’s go. I’m serious. We gotta get home,” I chided him.

Finally he stopped and said in a voice that sounded more like that of a 40-year-old. “Mom. What’s the hurry? Flowers are beautiful. You have not smelled one. You need to stop and smell the flowers.”

He pointed at some sort of bush with little purple flowers all over it. I stared at him, little arm stretched out and pointing at the bush. He was dead serious, and I couldn’t resist the instinct to laugh. “Did you just tell me to stop and smell the roses!?” I asked, amazed at how quickly he can diffuse me. He looked at the bush, then back at me. With totally sincerity and seriousness and sounding oddly grown up, he said, “No, Mom. I don’t think those are roses. I don’t want you to smell roses, I want you to smell those.” I stood there just smiling at him. He looked at me sternly and just pointed to the purple flowers. “So… you want me to stop and smell the flowers?” I asked. He just nodded. “Fine,” I said, not sure if I should be going along with the demands of a 4-year-old. I walked over to the flowers, and he smiled. When I bent over to smell them, I found him next to me doing the same thing. “There. I smelled them. Now can we go home?” I said to him. But he wasn’t listening. “Aren’t they pretty, Mom?” He looked at me, waiting for an answer. “Yes. They are lovely. But we have to go home. We will come back and smell them tomorrow if you want. OK?” He looked down at the ground, and his lip quivered like he was going to cry.

I was so frustrated and just wanted to go home. His newfound obsession with flowers was unexpected and left me at a loss for how to handle the situation. “But Mom,” he said with tears welling up on his eyes, “Tomorrow my legs might hurt.” I sighed. Now I understood. “You don’t hurt now?” I asked. He stared at the ground and shook his head no. I looked in the stroller and found his little brother had been too bored by botany to stay awake. So, with no baby to rush home and put to bed, I took my little boy with one hand and the stroller with the other. Together we stopped to smell every flower all the way home.

It was unexpectedly nice. I could not remember the last time I’d stopped and smelled a flower. The warm summer air and the orange of the sun setting in the sky mixed with the aroma of flowers was surprisingly tranquil. Once I surrendered myself to the experience I found, I was really enjoying myself. As we walked up our driveway, I kissed my boy on the cheek and gave him a hug. “Thanks for making me stop and smell the flowers,” I said to him. “You’re welcome,” he said, smiling. His nose was yellow and speckled with pollen from all the sniffing, and it made me laugh. By morning, I would come to be even more thankful I agreed to stop and smell the flowers. As he predicted, the next day would not be a good one. Only it wasn’t his legs like he thought. It was the day he started vomiting blood.

I’m both happy and saddened by how my 4-year-old has the foresight and wisdom to stop and smell the flowers. The fact that his life circumstance has taught him a total appreciation for enjoying the here and the now leaves me feeling conflicted. So often he will make me stop to watch a tree blow in the wind or a sparrow play in a puddle. Once, we watched ants work together to get a leaf in their nest for 20 minutes. “Now that’s teamwork!” he’d exclaimed. He sees the marvel in it all. He knows how to enjoy today because he knows tomorrow might not be a good one. He teaches me every day to enjoy the little things and points out the wonder and beauty in the mundane. So often we associate youth with ignorance, but I’ve come to think we’re wrong. Our little people have amazing wisdom and insight. Big philosophers in little bodies. They’re untainted by stress and societal pressure. They have no pretense and live in a world with pure intentions. There’s so much to learn from this mindset. It’s one I wish I had as an adult.

But it also makes me sad to know that someday his youthful wisdom will be lost to the cruelness of adolescence. I hope he can hang onto some of it. I hope I can help him do it. And when the day comes when he’s a parent feeling overwhelmed and struggling and his precious child tells him to stop and smell the flowers, I really hope he listens.

This post originally appeared on Raising Dystonia.

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Originally published: March 17, 2015
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